Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Say No To Drugs... For Kids

This comic has made me realize that I have extremely strong feelings about medication for children. Let me first clarify that I am not talking about children with significant mental illness for whom medication is necessary for proper functioning. I'm not talking about kids who are diagnosed bipolar or schizophrenic or with serious conditions like that. I am talking about otherwise healthy, energetic, distractable, creative kids who don't want to sit at a desk for 6 hours a day.

I shared this comic on Facebook with the caption "Don't kill Hobbes. Parents, say no to drugs." I got, as you might imagine, some responses. Some people agreed that drugs are bad. Others felt that they might be necessary at times.

One friend of mine said:

This is difficult for me to look at. We have spent the last 2 years as ADHD sufferers ourselves to try to teach every coping mechanism we can with our now 8 yr old. He has severe ADHD. He is at the point that he can't stay seated in a chair at all. After two years we're getting him evaluated for medication. The thought utterly terrifies me. The problem is that it is a spectrum. It isn't ironically black and white. When contemplating topics like this (or any) I find it best to leave enough wiggle room to contemplate so as not to be 100% on one side of the debate.
And this is a very valid point. He can't stay seated, so how can he function at school. This will affect his grades and future educational prospects.

Wait... why does an 8 year old need to stay seated? Could I stay calm when I was 8? I could if I was doing something engaging like playing a board game, but not so much for a boring class. I was diagnosed with ADD at age 20, but quite untreated at age 8. However this was not a problem because from age 7 to 11, I was attending Sudbury Valley School where I was not required to stay seated and absorb information for 6 hours a day.

I took about 50 hours of formal classes during the course of four years. How did that affect me academically. When I returned to public school, I was the age for grade 6, but academically could have advanced directly to grade 8. Of course, this begs the question of what schools are supposedly teaching during the four years I missed? Indeed, I learned organically everything that I would have been force fed during those years.

So, is this 8 year old the one with the problem, or is the school defective? Children have always learned by experience, through play and exploration. Only in the last 150 years have we sought to so regiment education for younger children. I suggest that the child does not need to be fixed with medication, the school should be fixed with common sense.

Immediately after, there was this comment.
It's easy to take a no-medication stand when it's not your kid. If it were your kid being threatened with expulsion, being held back, or special ed, you'd likely do everything possible to keep the child integrated in mainstream schooling. It's not just ADHD, either. There are kids out there on antidepressants and antipsychotics as well, and I guarantee you it's not because their parents were lazy or looking for an easy way out.
If the Koalid were being threatened with expulsion or being held back, I would remove her from the hostile and non-nurturing environment that created the problem. I understand that this is not an option for many people. They have multiple children or economic challenges that prevent doing so. But, for me, I know the damage that inappropriate education can cause, and, unfortunately, as more and more schools teach to the test, more and more school becomes inappropriate.

Had I been forced to stay in public school for those years, the best case scenario is that drugs and strict discipline would have defeated my creativity and energy. I never would have opened Phoenix Games. I never would have created Pi-Con or ConCardia or any of those things. Equally likely is that my energy and creativity would not have been stifled but would have instead gone to less wholesome activities. Pranks, rebellion, and other trouble could have resulted, causing long term effects to my educational prospects.

There are good mainstream schools. There are also winning lottery tickets. The problem is not the teachers, but the system and the politics which dominate and corrupt the system.

It is my absolute priority that the Koalid be educated in a way that will best prepare her for success, whatever that takes. While the answer to how to do that is evolving, I am confident that catch-all medication is not that answer.